SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) – Chinese developer MCC Land has decided to preview two projects simultaneously on April 24: the 351-unit One Bernam in Tanjong Pagar and the 413-unit Provence Residence at Canberra Link, off Sembawang Road. The rationale for doing this, says Tan Zhiyong, CEO of MCC Group in Singapore, is that the two sites were acquired “around the same time” two years ago. Based on the Chinese calendar, the preview date (April 24) is an auspicious one, he adds.
The 41,400 sq ft, 99-year leasehold site at Bernam Street, purchased under the government land sales (GLS) programme, was awarded to Hao Yuan Investments in September 2019 for $440.9 million or $1,463 psf per plot ratio (ppr). MCC Land has taken a 30% stake in the development, and is handling the marketing, development and construction of the upcoming project named One Bernam, as it sits on 1 Bernam Street.
When it came to the 99-year leasehold, executive condo (EC) site at Canberra Link, MCC Land emerged at the top of eight bids at the close of the tender in July 2019. MCC had submitted a bid of $233.89 million ($566 psf ppr), and was awarded the site three months later in October that year.
As an EC project can be launched only 15 months from the site’s acquisition date, or upon completion of the foundation works, MCC’s Tan had anticipated that it would be launching One Bernam ahead of its EC project at Canberra Link named Provence Residence. However, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the construction sector last year, resulting in delays in the completion of many developers’ project sales galleries and showflats. As such, the two projects are previewing at the same time, explains Tan.
For MCC, winning the GLS site on Bernam Street is significant in many ways. For one, Tanjong Pagar is the one of the oldest districts in the Downtown area, and the government rolled out the CBD Incentive Scheme in 2019 to encourage developers to rejuvenate and reposition the CBD as a place for people to live, work and play in.
Tan: Having done The Alps Residences, inspired by the Swiss Alps, and The Santorini, inspired by the Greek island, why not Provence in France? What’s more, people can’t travel these days. They might as well have a foreign-themed home (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Refashioning Tanjong Pagar
With Tanjong Pagar undergoing a renewal, Tan wants One Bernam to be a showcase of what the future district could look like, he says.
A 35-storey mixed-use development, One Bernam is composed of 351 residential units, a two-storey, retail podium of 15,726 sq ft and a 13-key boutique serviced apartment. “We want to have a confluence of different segments to attract different types of visitors to the development,” says Tan.
One Bernam is MCC’s and Hao Yuan’s maiden project in the Core Central Region (CCR). Adjacent to One Bernam is Realty Centre, a 12-storey commercial building sitting on an 11,000 sq ft, freehold site with a plot ratio of 5.6. It marked one of the very few collective sales of a strata-titled commercial development when it was sold en bloc for $148 million in April 2019.
The buyer of Realty Centre is Singapore-listed The Place Holdings, a Beijing-headquartered company involved in tourism, media, property management, biotechnology and international trade. The acquisition is set to be completed by the end of this month.
Last month, MCC Land entered into a shareholders’ agreement with The Place Holdings, with the former taking a 30% equity stake and the latter retaining a 51% stake in the joint-venture company. Sun Gard will hold the remaining stake of 19%.
The parties are still exploring a collaboration on the redevelopment of Realty Centre and hoping to leverage the CBD Incentive Scheme, says Tan. Taking a stake in Realty Centre is strategic, as MCC would be undertaking the project management and construction too, upon completion of its acquisition.
Sitting across the road from One Bernam is Fuji Xerox Towers. Singapore-listed property giant City Developments Ltd has said that it will be redeveloping the freehold site into a new, mixed-use integrated development with commercial, residential and serviced apartment components. Under the CBD Incentive Scheme, the new development will enjoy a 25% uplift in gross floor area.
Two-bedroom and two-bedroom-plus-study units ranging from 700 to 872 sq ft form the majority of the units (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Differentiation through unit sizes, mix
Tan wants to differentiate One Bernam from Midtown Modern and Irwell Hill Residences. Both projects are located in the CCR too and were launched recently. Midtown Modern saw 61% of its 558 units taken up, while Irwell Hill Residences saw over half of its 540 units sold, on their launch weekends in March.
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Hence, the unit sizes at One Bernam are larger than the average. One-bedroom apartments are sized from 441 to 463 sq ft, and make up 87 units (about 25%). Two-bedroom and two-bedroom-plus-study units ranging from 700 to 872 sq ft form the majority of the units (66%). Together, one- and two-bedders make up 91% of the units in the development.
Three-bedroom apartments at One Bernam are sizeable at 1,421 sq ft, and account for just 29 units in the development. The most spacious are the three-bedroom penthouses of 1,744 and 1,948 sq ft, and there are only two such units. On the top floor is the largest and biggest penthouse in the development — a 4,306 sq ft unit with five bedrooms.
Tan feels that the CBD area could benefit from having more generous-sized units to accommodate work-from-home lifestyle and to attract more families to live in the CBD, given its proximity to Cantonment Primary School. Within a five-minute walk are the eateries at the conservation shophouses along Tras Street, Peck Seah Street and Amoy Street. There are also parks nearby, for instance, the Tanjong Pagar Park at Guoco Tower, the Duxton Plain Park next to Pinnacle @ Duxton and the Vanda Miss Joachim Park.
The location is well-connected. Tanjong Pagar MRT Station on the East-West Line is just one MRT stop from Raffles Place Interchange Station for the North-South and East-West Lines. Telok Ayer MRT Station on the Downtown Line is also within a few minutes’ walk and two stops from the Bayfront MRT Interchange Station for the Downtown and Circle Lines. The upcoming Maxwell MRT Station on the Thomson-East Coast Line is expected to be completed within the next year.
One Bernam is also close to malls such as 100AM and the six-storey retail podium at Guoco Tower. Hence, Tan feels Tanjong Pagar is “liveable” with all these amenities nearby. One Bernam is therefore designed “for people who want to live here, and not just buy for investment”, he adds.
Scale model of the 35-storey One Bernam at Tanjong Pagar, with 351 condominium units, 13-key serviced apartments on one floor and two floors of retail space (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
One full circle
Tanjong Pagar holds a special place in Tan’s heart. He moved to Singapore in 1996, after graduating with a degree in civil engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing. This was followed by a Master of Science (Geotechnical Engineering) from Central Research Institute of Building and Construction, Ministry of Metallurgical Industry, China; as well as Master of Business Administration from University of South Australia. He came to the city-state to explore business opportunities for parent company Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC Group), a Fortune Global 500 company listed on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Stock Exchanges.
In the early days of MCC Group in Singapore, Tan used to visit Bank of China’s South Sub-Branch at Maxwell House in Tanjong Pagar, whenever he needed to conduct any business on behalf of the group. The South Sub-Branch had opened at Maxwell House in 1940, and relocated only in 2014.
The best treat he and his colleagues had gotten then was a buffet at Amara Singapore. “At that time, I never would have dreamt that I would be developing a project in the Tanjong Pagar or CBD area,” he relates. When Tan saw the Bernam Street site on the Confirmed List of the GLS Programme in 1H2019, he felt that fate had led him to come full circle back to Tanjong Pagar.
MCC Group’s business in Singapore started with the construction of HDB estates and public transport infrastructure, and evolved into construction of other significant projects such as Universal Studios Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore Expo and Keppel Distripark. Under Tan, MCC’s business has extended beyond Singapore to the rest of the Southeast Asian region, including Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
In 2010, the group made its foray into property development under MCC Land. Its portfolio of residential projects includes The Canopy, Canberra Residences and One Canberra in the northern region; The Santorini and The Alps Residences in Tampines Avenue 10; as well as the mixed-use development The Poiz Residences and The Poiz Centre next to the Potong Pasir MRT Station and Queens Peak located directly in front of the Commonwealth MRT Station. MCC Land has developed 12 projects with over 6,000 condominium units in Singapore to date.
Scale model of the 413-unit Provence Residence at Canberra Link in Sembawang is located near Canberra MRT station (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
For Tan, the Canberra area in Sembawang has special significance too. When he moved to Singapore 25 years ago, he rented a place in Woodlands, near the Causeway immigration checkpoint. He then moved to Yishun. He feels that Woodlands and Yishun in the northern region of Singapore have changed tremendously over the years.
When MCC Land was looking for development sites more than a decade ago, its maiden EC project was the 406-unit The Canopy at Yishun Avenue 11. The 99-year leasehold EC was completed in 2014. At the time of the launch, Tan’s residence was just behind The Canopy site.
This was followed by a series of projects in Sembawang: a second EC project, the 665-unit, 1 Canberra at Canberra Walk; the neighbouring private condo, the 99-year leasehold Canberra Residences with 320 units; followed by the 435-unit The Nautical on Jalan Sedudok, off Sembawang Road. MCC has also developed two EC projects in Woodlands, namely the 653-unit Forestville and the 358-unit Northwave.
“Those were the early days,” relates Tan. “And now the Sembawang landscape has changed completely.” He wants Provence Residence to be representative of “the new Sembawang”.
With its history of developing projects in Sembawang and the northern region, MCC Land has participated in all the GLS sites launched in these areas. In 2018, MCC Land and joint-venture partner Greatview Investments emerged as the second highest bidder for Land Parcel A at Canberra Link. A joint venture between Hoi Hup Realty and Sunway Developments submitted the highest bid and won the site.
The new project by Hoi Hup and Sunway, the 496-unit Parc Canberra was launched in February 2019. On the first weekend of sales, 316 units (64%) were taken up at an average price of $1,085 psf. To date, the project is 97.4% sold, with average price of units sold at $1,099 psf.
Not be outdone, Tan wanted to make sure that MCC won the neighbouring site, when Land Parcel B was launched for sale a year later in 2019. The upcoming 413-unit Provence Residence is located within walking distance of Canberra MRT Station on the North-South Line.
Showflat of a three-bedroom premium unit at Provence Residence with sizes of up to 1,249 sq ft (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
‘Great place to live’
Sembawang has become a more attractive location for developers, especially with the upcoming North-South Corridor, an expressway that will shorten the commuting time from the city area. There are more amenities in the area today, with Northpoint City shopping mall in Yishun, the “new generation” Canberra Plaza neighbourhood centre and the upcoming Bukit Canberra integrated sport and community hub that will include a new hawker centre. This is on top of existing malls such as Sembawang Shopping Centre and Sun Plaza.
“With all the amenities, Sembawang has become a great place to live in,” says MCC’s Tan. He is betting on the future growth of the northern region, with the North-South Corridor, the Northern Agri-Tech and Food Corridor and the upcoming Woodlands Health Campus, offering integrated healthcare, from acute and community hospitals, to nursing homes and specialist clinics.
Nature attractions in the area include the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat Nature Park, Kranji Marshes and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Once Sembawang Shipyard’s operations cease, the site could be redeveloped into a mixed-use waterfront lifestyle precinct, according to the URA Master Plan.
With all these government plans in the pipeline, MCC’s Tan believes that there are many opportunities for developers like him in the northern region.
Showflat of a typical three-bedroom unit at Provence Residence where sizes start from 883 sq ft (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
MCC wants to position Provence Residence as representing the “new generation” of ECs in the Sembawang area. The development’s Provence theme will be carried through in both the facade design as well as the condominium facilities. “We like to come up with different themes for our projects,” says Tan.
“Having done The Alps Residences, inspired by the Swiss Alps, and The Santorini, inspired by the Greek island, why not Provence in France?” Tan quips. “What’s more, people can’t travel these days. They might as well have a foreign-themed home.”
At Provence Residence, the predominant apartments (389 units) are three-bedroom, with sizes ranging from 883 to 1,249 sq ft. Four-bedroom units of 1,399 sq ft make up the remaining 24 units. Based on market indicative figures, prices start from $890,000 ($1,008 psf) for an 883 sq ft three-bedder and upward of $1.5 million ($1,072 psf) for a 1,399 sq ft four-bedder.
Given the strong sales at Parc Canberra last year and with the project already more than 97% sold, Ismail Gafoor, CEO of PropNex, reckons that Provence Residence will do well. “Today, all ECs are expected to be priced in the range of about $1,100 psf, and I expect Provence Residence will be priced in line with the market accepted price range,” he says.
According to Lee Sze Teck, Huttons Asia’s director of research, Provence Residence is the only EC among this year’s slate of new project launches that is located within walking distance of an MRT station. To qualify for an EC, the gross monthly household income ceiling is $16,000, and HDB upgraders do not need to pay additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) upfront, he adds. “These are strong reasons why buyers should consider buying an EC if they qualify.”
In the past year, demand for ECs has been strong, notes Nicholas Mak, head of research at ERA Realty. This was evidenced by the 59% take-up rate at the 700-unit Parc Central Residences in Tampines in January at an average selling price of $1,177 psf.
According to Mak, demand for ECs has remained quite stable in the last few months, (see table titled “Median unit price of four executive condominiums launched in past two years”).
The market for ECs and at Provence Residence is mainly young families and HDB upgraders. This is a different clientele from One Bernam, notes PropNex’s Gafoor. “These two projects are unlikely to compete with or cannibalise each other; hence, doing simultaneous previews is not an issue,” he adds.
One-bedroom units at One Bernam starts from $1 million ($2,268 psf) for a 441 sq ft unit (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Singapore Downtown and beyond
One Bernam’s unit sizes are bigger than some of those in the CCR that were launched recently, observes Gafoor. Initial indicative prices show one-bedroom units of 441 sq ft starting from $1 million ($2,268 psf), two-bedroom units priced upwards of $1.6 million ($2,286 psf), with two-bedroom premium units from $1.8 million ($2,230 psf). Meanwhile, three-bedroom units with private lift start from $3.3 million ($2,322 psf).
“With prices starting from just below $1.1 million for a one-bedroom unit, or from $2,200 to $2,300 psf for a CCR location within a five-minute walk from Tanjong Pagar MRT Station, it’s a price range that investors and home buyers are prepared to enter the market at,” adds Gafoor.
What’s more, there has not been a new project launched in the Tanjong Pagar area in eight years, not since the 181-unit Wallich Residence at Guoco Tower in 2013. “Given that it has been eight years since the last launch in District 2 in the Downtown Core, interest in One Bernam is expected to be strong,” says Mark Yip, CEO of Huttons Asia. “With the government encouraging more mixed-use developments there, the whole area is going to see more transformation in the next few years.”
MCC’s Tan believes that to succeed as a property developer and construction company in Singapore, one has to achieve not just scale, but specialisation. “It’s not just about moving up the value chain, but deepening our expertise,” he adds.
For instance, for the upcoming mixed-use development on the Tanah Merah Link GLS site which MCC Land won last November, Tan wants to come up with “a new retail concept”. The new project will have 21,528 sq ft of retail space and 265 residential units, and is located opposite Tanah Merah MRT Station. It is expected to be launched sometime in 1H2022.
Competition has intensified in the Singapore property market, with more new players entering the scene. When Tan first ventured into property development in Singapore 11 years ago, it was mainly MCC Land and Qingjian Realty, he relates. “Today, there are so many more foreign players in the Singapore property market,” he adds.
Although developers’ margins may have been compressed in recent years, there is still an opportunity for a property player to establish itself in the city-state, notes Tan. “Once you’ve built a brand for yourself in Singapore, it will help you elsewhere in the region,” he says. “That’s why a lot of overseas developers still want to come to Singapore first to establish themselves.”
After all, that is what MCC did 25 years ago. Beyond Singapore, MCC has been involved in large-scale developments in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as a luxury development in Cambodia. Tan intends to make further inroads elsewhere in the region. As such, like other major developers — both local and abroad — Tan has set his sights on the 1.2ha master developer site at Kampong Bugis.
Check out the latest listings near One Bernam, Midtown Modern, Irwell Hill Residences, Provence Residence, Parc Canberra, Sembawang, Tanjong Pagar MRT Station, Telok Ayer MRT Station, Bayfront MRT Interchange Station, Cantonment Primary School